Urban legends of the Truckee Tahoe Airport
August 13, 2004
By Rick TavanThere is a determined anti-airport group fomenting dissent by creating “urban legends” about our outstanding aviation facility, the Truckee Tahoe Airport. Let’s look at some of them:Legend: “The airport is dangerous.”Truth: It is a safe airport. Tom Meadows’ recent letter in the Sierra Sun included some relevant data. Over 22 years, no one has ever been injured on the ground because of an accident involving our airport. There has been one fatality, inside an airplane. The total accident rate in the vicinity of the airport has declined from 2.5 to one per year in the past six years, mostly confined to the airport premises. There are far more injuries, damage and deaths on our highways, ski areas and waterways, many involving innocent bystanders.The aviation community is among the most safety-conscious in the world. Pilots take extensive recurrent training and are immersed in safety seminars, magazine articles, currency requirements and flight reviews. If people drove their cars as responsibly as pilots fly, the accident rate on our highways would be minuscule. We need a network of mountain airports where pilots can land in an emergency. Closing our airport would increase the danger to pilots, passengers and people on the ground posed by aircraft crossing the Sierra. Legend: Airplane noise is intolerable. Truth: A departing jet overhead is indeed noisy for a few seconds. The Federal Aviation Administration should phase out stage I and II business jets like they did for the airliners. We should encourage them to go away from Truckee sooner. Nonetheless, I believe the railroad, Interstate, street cleaners, boats and Jet Skis make more noise than the airport. Legend: “The pilots don’t follow the [noise abatement] rules.” Truth: The noise recommendations can only be guidelines, not rules. Nonetheless, the large majority of pilots follow the guidelines carefully. New visitors may not know them prior to arrival and safety mandates certain deviations. FAA standard instrument departures differ from local noise guidelines. (Let’s work on getting new departures!) We have made great progress educating the flying public and securing their cooperation. We continue to do more.Legend: The airport board and management “want” to increase airport traffic. Truth: These dedicated people simply forecast demand and respond to it. They take pride in their work but have no interest in increasing their workload and the number of noise complaints. Legend: Airport improvements attract additional traffic.Truth: Air traffic and demand for airport facilities are generated by off-airport features: housing, jobs, entertainment, culture, medical facilities and recreation. Airport condition and improvements neither increase nor decrease demand. Consider Reid-Hillview Airport in San Jose. Traffic did not decline while an anti-airport group managed to halt maintenance and destroy the restaurant level. Weeds grew through cracked asphalt. Doors rusted. Ceilings leaked. Floors flooded. Grass grew three feet high. Staff grew surly. But the pilots stayed because that was where they lived, worked and visited. Fortunately, Reid-Hillview is recovering slowly from that era: The primary politician against the airport moved to a different jurisdiction and two primary citizen advocates moved – to Truckee.Legend: “Only 1 percent of the people are pilots.” Implication: Airports are easy targets to destroy if a furious few can convince an unconcerned majority.Truth: The airport serves the entire community and its many visitors as a base for transportation, search and rescue, medical evacuation, fire fighting, education, commerce and recreation. Ask the young lady whom a local volunteer pilot whisked off to an organ transplant operation at 3 a.m. whether the airport is an asset.Legend: The airport has “surplus” cash.Truth: Only airport opponents would have the nerve to suggest that spending less than you take in is bad! Our management provides excellent stewardship of public funds, curtailing operating expenses to build reserves for future maintenance. And we will pay far less for that work than it actually costs because the FAA funds up to 95 percent of many airport projects, leveraging local tax dollars better than any other use of public funds. The airport is a bargain.Legend: “We don’t want to close the airport.”Truth: Although some anti-airport advocates believe this, others are life-committed to closing airports wherever they can. For example, one local family has purchased homes under the traffic patterns of three small airports and led fights to close them all. Don’t be misled by their admitted near-term goals to take over our board, rewrite the master plan and cut funding. They will not stop fighting until the airport is closed. People of good will can solve community problems by working together toward a common and openly stated goal. Let’s elect strong, business-oriented professionals to our board who will work creatively to address neighborhood concerns while remaining committed to preserving a healthy aviation resource in our region. Rick Tavan is a resident of Truckee.